Sunday, May 10, 2015

I'm not 'anti-charter' but I am anti-this...

Mavericks charter founder Frank Biden, brother of V.P. Joe Biden.
"I give you my word of honor on my family name that this system is sustainable.”
"I'm very proud of what we're doing." We're on a  mission from God."  --  Frank Biden
As I have pointed out many times, I am not "anti-charter". But I am against what they've become and the way charter schools have been taken over by networks of politically-connected corporate privateers. They have co-opted the language of the small-schools movement, ie.  "choice" and "autonomy", in order to further debase teachers, erode public space and public decision making, to bust teacher unions, and to reap profits from urban gentrification.

The wild, unregulated expansion of these privately-run charter networks has come at the expense of public schools. It has also served to increase racial segregation. And to top it off, there's no evidence that these networks perform and better (often worse) than the public schools they were meant to replace.

A case in point, as if another one were needed... A large Florida-based charter network is called Mavericks (R.I.P. James Garner).  It was founded by Frank Biden, brother of Vice-Pres. Joe Biden. Yesterday's Palm Beach Post reported that Mavericks Principal Krista Morton was arrested while allegedly using drugs and having sex with a student in a car.

Okay, some might say. This is terrible but it has nothing to do with charter schools per se. After all, we read about incidents like this all the time, sensationalized in our gossip-hungry media. But that begs the question. This story not only highlights a school principal who probably shouldn't have been hired in the first place, but a charter chain, established by a politically-connected non-educator. It's one of many that has failed to keeps its promise to its students and their families. It also raises the question: Are charters really public.?

Back in 2011, when Krista Morton was the principal at Richard Millburn Academy — a charter school for dropout students in Manatee County — district officials investigated the school for graduating students who did not meet requirements, having grade-change irregularities and giving students puzzles and word searches instead of more rigorous work. It is not known whether Morton resigned or was fired. The school shut its doors later that year.

Mavericks Principal Krista Morton
Why did Frank Biden choose her to become a Mavericks principal? We may never know. But this we do know. Mavericks have been under scrutiny for years. Back in October, the Sun-Sentinel reported widespread financial mismanagement within the chain. It said that Biden had launched the network of charter schools more than five years ago, "drumming up publicity with prominent pitchmen and pledging to turn dropouts into graduates".

Many of the company's schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars.  At least three of the Mavericks schools have received $250,000 federal grants through the state, state documents show. They've been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

• Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.

• Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollars at two now-closed Pinellas County schools.

• Frequent academic errors that include skipping state tests for special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated materials.

This latest incident also brings up the question of whether or not charter schools run by private networks are truly public schools.

The Sun-Sentinel reports:
Jim Pegg, who oversees charter schools for the Palm Beach County school district, said Morton's actions violated professional standards. But because Morton was a private employee of the charter school, the district had no power to discipline her. 
No, I'm not anti-charter. But I am anti-this.


  1. The last point notes errors I rather like . What's wrong with not using textbooks?
    But of course your point is well-taken and the evidence suggests that the bad stuff you describe is far more rampant in charters. But the record in many regular public systems is more common than either of us like.

  2. I think you missed the point here, Deb. The charter network wasn't being investigated for "not using textbooks", but rather for misappropriating (a nice word for stealing) funds designated for the purchase of textbooks. Big difference. No?

    Yes, such misappropriation is quite common in public schools where poor kids and students of color (code name "at risk") attend. I hope those aren't "errors" you like.

  3. I misunderstood your words. Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.


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